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Labor advocates express concern over poultry plant safety

Advocacy groups have expressed growing concern over what they say are unsafe conditions at poultry plants in the United States, particularly as it pertains to assembly line speeds. The USDA has faced controversy over their recommendation to allowed increased assembly line speeds, nearly doubling the number of birds that can go through the slaughtering process each minute. The current rate is 90 birds per minute, which is already a very fast pace that can result in worker injury. The recommendation is to increase it to 175 birds per minute, a rate that labor groups say would put workers at serious risk of being injured.

The proposal has been formally opposed in letters and now a petition by groups ranging from the Coalition of Poultry Workers to the National Council of La Raza.

The USDA has responded to the complaints, saying that they will consider the issue and the evidence presented.

Employees who work in poultry processing plants are entitled to a safe work environment. This means that employers cannot ignore dangerous conditions or knowingly put their employees in harms way. For employees who agree to do abnormally dangerous work, safety gear and training must be in place to help prevent injuries. If an employer fails to take these steps and implements a system that puts people at risk they could be liable for negligence. And, while government regulatory systems are evidence of what may be considered a safe work environment, the burden is still on the employer to implement a system at their plant that is safe even if they do not push the limits of the regulation.

Source: Science Blogs, "USDA to poultry plant workers: no promise we'll address line speed hazards," Celeste Monforton, Oct. 15, 2013. 

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